We really like the engineering behind Tesla vehicles. But sometimes the execution is not as good as the design. People have been complaining about the panel gaps in Tesla vehicles for years. But it also was the best choice in the EV market. Consumers were willing to put up with small niggles for engineering prowess.
No doubt about it, Toyota knows how to make a reliable vehicle. When they let their engineers soar, you get vehicles like Lexus that set the standard of quality and reliability. So now it’s Toyota’s turn to make a fully electric vehicle. The company tried as long as it could to stay away from EVs, instead leaning toward hybrid powerplants (as in the exemplary Prius) or even long-shot environmentally friendly solutions such as the hydrogen fuel cell (the Toyota Mirai).
We’ll start off with this sum-it-all-up nugget: The Toyota bZ4X has the feel of a Camry wrapped in a unique RAV4-style body. It eschews large screens for hard buttons. Moreover, your grandmother could jump in and figure it out in a few minutes. That is what makes the bZ4X so great.
What’s in a Name?
So, what’s the deal with the name, which sounds like a fax machine model from the 1990s? BZ stands for Beyond Zero, Toyota’s initiative to reach “beyond carbon neutrality” with products, services and operations to find new ways to make a positive impact on the planet and society. The latest commercials for the bZ campaign try to lure consumers and show them the ease of switching to electric vehicles. Which can be done if you have the luxury of access to a Level 2 charger at your house or very nearby. Lisa Materazzo, group vice president of Toyota Marketing, says, “The bZ4X all-electric SUV is the total package in terms of innovative design and advanced technology, meticulously engineered to make electrification easier.”
Hop in and Go!
The shape is one that Americans will instantly be familiar with, and the practicality is there with a large trunk and passenger compartment. The interior is nicely finished with very comfy seats that are both heated and ventilated. Piano-black parts are featured throughout the vehicle, enhancing the quality feel (but tricky to keep clean), while a satin material is found on the higher Limited grade to exude a feeling of luxury. A soft-touch cloth material is adhered to the dashboard for a premium touch.
About the only unusual thing missing is a glove compartment. Instead, the owner’s manual and other items can be kept in a storage area in the center console. Without needing a heater core like a gasoline vehicle, we thought a glove compartment would be a no-brainer and should be standard. But it does give a futuristic feel to the interior.
Let’s Go Places
The bZ4X can act like an SUV with the X-MODE four-wheel-drive system. It features Grip-Control, a low-speed system that according to Toyota leverages motor drive power modulation to achieve capable off-road performance during turns. This feature was developed as an added X-MODE function to determine road surface characteristics and maintain a constant speed to prevent slipping on rough roads, allowing the driver to focus more on steering.
The bZ4X comes standard with a 12.3-inch widescreen Toyota Audio Multimedia system, designed and engineered by Toyota’s Texas-based Connected Technologies team. The system can be updated over the air. If you state “Hey Toyota,” the system wakes up.
The best feature is the small microphone icon on the screen you can press to easily enter a navigation address while on the move. The system also controls the well-engineered JBL audio system. The JBL team analyzed the current draw to make sure the bZ4X’s vehicle power is optimized while still having dynamic headroom to sound good.
My only problem is with the bz4X’s otherwise well-engineered dashboard layout: The steering wheel can obscure the view of the instrument cluster screen. When I adjusted it to where I could see the entire screen, the wheel itself sat too low for my liking.
Extra Measures for Battery Safety
Not only is Toyota’s safety suite on board, but with all the talk of battery safety and E-bike fires, the vehicle is constantly monitoring the battery pack to make sure it is safe. Toyota says the engineers created a meticulous production process that helps reduce contamination of battery components to help bolster battery durability. There is redundant monitoring of battery voltage, current and temperature designed to detect signs of abnormal heating. A coolant circulation system is designed to help prevent fire from short circuits even in high battery load conditions. The integration of the high-capacity battery pack within the floor of the body frame structure is designed with protection in mind in the event of a collision.
With the look, feel and user experience of a loaded Toyota gasoline SUV, the bZ4X is a serious contender in the segment. With the X-MODE system, the range is just under 200 miles with a full charge. So, it is probably not the best for those taking long trips. But around town, it’s a perfectly comfortable SUV that happens to be an EV. At just over $50K loaded with Toyota reliability, if you’re in the EV market, take a look!